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CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Newspapers face whole new era

August 8, 2005

Every newspaper in the world with an interest in surviving long term is rethinking its long-term strategy these days. IBJ is no exception.

The most obvious trend prompting this global gut check is the exponential growth in Internet use-fueled by the broadband services that make it easier-and the proliferation of news and information services available on the Web.

Why bother to read a newspaper if you have the world at your fingertips via your personal computer at home and in the office?

Fortunately, we in the business can still count on baby boomers and their parents to pick up the printed publication, hold it in their hands, and sit down with a cup of coffee to peruse it. We love the tactile nature of it. We grew up with it.

Young people-and for purposes of this column, I'm talking about the under-30 crowd-are something else again. They grew up with personal computers, video games and the Web.

Study after study has shown that people under 30 don't read newspapers on a regular basis anymore. One study reports that, in 1970, about 70 percent of people under 30 read daily newspapers regularly. By the year 2000, the number had dropped to 20 percent.

Studies also show that reading newspapers is not a habit people suddenly pick up when they reach a certain age. You don't live for three decades and wake up one morning to say, "I think I'll subscribe to a newspaper."

We are creatures of habit.

My daughters-ages 21 and 24-are perfect examples. Neither reads a newspaper that I'm aware of. Both are avid Web-users. My older child ritualistically checks a certain group of her favorite Web sites daily to get the information she needs.

I think all this is leading to a day when the printed publication will no longer exist and people will retrieve or be delivered all the news they want in a digital form of one kind or another. It's inevitable and good news for the trees of the world.

If newspapers want to survive, they must react to these irreversible and powerful trends.

The silver lining to this gloomy picture for newspaper publishers is that this won't happen overnight. In the vernacular of today's fast-paced world, this is a glacial change that will occur over two or three decades.

Fortunately, there are a lot of us who are baby boomers and older. As our massive generation disappears, slowly but surely, news organizations must find ways to hook the under-30s or wake up 25 years from now and find themselves out of business.

What are younger readers looking for?

A study conducted recently for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune found young readers want information that makes them smarter, that applies to their daily lives, and that looks out for their civic and personal interests. They want something to talk about with their friends.

What don't they like about traditional daily newspapers? Not surprisingly, young people think they contain too much information. And, interestingly, the under-30s think newspapers discriminate and stereotype. That ought to give all of us something to think about.

IBJ and other business journals may have a slight advantage over our daily newspaper counterparts. Because of our targeted content, we will always skew toward an older reader who is more established in the business world. That fact, however, shouldn't keep us from reaching out to younger readers.

We will continue our market research and determine the best ways for us to meet the information needs of young people, both in content and delivery, without alienating our older readers. There is no doubt the IBJ Web site and e-mail delivery will be components of any such strategy. And probably many things unheard of today.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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